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Against the Odds: Elspeth Tribal (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 337 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a planeswalker-tribal Against the Odds poll, and Elspeth took home a pretty easy victory over the rest of the field. As such, we're heading to Modern today to see if we can win with a deck featuring every Elspeth (well, every non–Planeswalker Deck Elspeth) in existence! What's the best way to build around the planeswalker, and what are the odds of winning with Elspeth Tribal in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Elspeth Tribal

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The Deck

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The main challenge of building a planeswalker-tribal deck is figuring out what unites all the different versions of a planeswalker together. Thankfully, this isn't especially difficult for Elspeth. Every single version of Elspeth makes tokens, and nearly all Elspeths have the ability to pump creatures on the battlefield, while some offer a bit of removal as well as a bonus. 

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This means that we don't really need to worry about playing any non-Elspeth win conditions in our deck—if we can play enough Elspeths, we can use them to make enough tokens (and pump those tokens large enough) to kill our opponent with combat damage and win the game. As such, the main thing we need to do to win the game with our Elspeths is to get them onto the battlefield as quickly as possible and protect them so that they stick on the battlefield for a few turns.

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The other interesting aspect of Elspeths is that we've never really had a bad one. Some planeswalkers have, like, one really strong version and then a bunch that are fairly weak. While we've never really had a broken Elspeth on the level of Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Oko, Thief of Crowns (Elspeth, Knight-Errant probably came the closest back in its day), every single one (discounting Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, perhaps) was strong enough to see a lot of play in Standard, and a few (Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Elspeth, Sun's Champion specifically) have shown up in older formats on occasion. This combination of redundancy—in both effects and power—means that we often don't really care which Elspeth we draw; we just want to get as many of them onto the battlefield as possible as quickly as possible.

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While our primary plan for winning the game is to make a bunch of Elspeth tokens and pump them into lethal threats with Elspeths, we do have a backup plan: tutoring up Luxior, Giada's Gift with Stoneforge Mystic and beating down with our Elspeths themselves. One of the unwritten rules of planeswalker-tribal decks is that they need to try to stick to the planeswalker's flavor as much as possible; otherwise, the strongest way to build around pretty much every planeswalker would involve playing Doubling Season and trying to ultimate the planewalkers as quickly as possible. But this wouldn't be all that interesting because the planeswalkers themselves wouldn't really matter outside of their ultimates.

Luxior, Giada's Gift is similar. In theory, you could stick it in basically any planeswalker-tribal deck, and it would probably be good because having the option to turn your planeswalkers into creatures is powerful. But much like Doubling Season, this would get boring pretty quickly because the actual text on your planeswalkers wouldn't be all that relevant. All you'd really care about is how much loyalty (or other counters) the planeswalkers had. That said, Luxior, Giada's Gift is very on theme for an Elspeth deck since it was literally a gift from Giada to Elspeth, and Elspeth is featured on the art. Plus, every Elspeth is mono-white, and white is perhaps the best equipment color. All this is to say, while I don't think we'll play Luxior, Giada's Gift in most planeswalker-tribal decks, it is perfect for Elspeth Tribal specifically.

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Outside of Elspeths and Luxior, we've got Mind Stone to help ramp into our Elspeths. Modern can be a pretty fast format, and we don't have any three-mana Elspeths yet, so getting to our four-, five-, and six-mana planeswalkers a bit quicker is important. We've also got Oath of Elspeth...err...Oath of Gideon. I know, I know, we're an Elspeth deck and not a Gideon deck, but aside from the unfortunate naming, Oath of Gideon is perfect for Elspeth Tribal, giving us another token producer to back up our Elspeth. And adding extra loyalty counters to our Elspeth is never a bad thing since it can help us reach their ultimates quicker or keep them on the battlefield even through some damage. Oath of Gideon also works incredibly well with Elspeth Tirel. Normally, Elspeth Tirel enters the battlefield with four loyalty, which means we need it to uptick and stay on the battlefield for a turn before we can use it to wrath away all non-token, non-land permanents (which often leaves behind a chunk of our board since we make a lot of tokens with our Elspeths). If we have an Oath of Gideon on the battlefield, Elspeth Tirel comes into play with five loyalty. This lets us ultimate right away, turning Elspeth Tirel into a real wrath, which is super strong against a lot of decks!

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Otherwise, we've got a bunch of cheap or even free removal to make sure that our Elspeths stick on the battlefield long enough to generate some value and perhaps even win us the game. Elspeth Conquers Death was originally in the deck mostly for flavor purposes because it's an Elspeth card, although it was good pretty much every time we drew it, and it might be worth adding another copy to the deck. It works especially well with Elspeth Tirel. If we can reanimate Elspeth Tirel and give it an extra loyalty counter, we'll be able to use it immediately to wrath away all non-token, non-land permanents with its ultimate (similar to the Oath of Gideon trick), which is pretty powerful. Otherwise, the main upside of Solitude, March of Otherworldly Light, and Path to Exile is that they can exile any creature, often for zero or one mana, which lets us tap down (or even out) to cast an Elspeth and still defend it from our opponent's creatures.

The Matchups

In general, Elspeth Tribal is really good against fair decks, both midrange and control, since our endless stream of planeswalkers, tokens, and removal can hold back a board of attackers forever and eventually let us build a big enough board to overwhelm our opponent with random 1/1s (and maybe a Luxiored Elspeth). On the other hand, fast combo is tough. While we have some good sideboard cards for some combo decks, like Damping Sphere and Rest in Peace, the problem is that Elspeths are pretty slow. Even with our best draws, we aren't winning until Turn 5 or 6, which just isn't fast enough to race most Modern combo decks. We can occasionally win by drawing the right sideboard cards early in the game, but we'd much rather play against midrange or control.

The Odds

We played a Modern league with Elspeth Tribal and ended up going 3-2 with the deck, which is pretty solid for an Against the Odds brew in the league. In general, the Elspeths felt surprisingly powerful. While we never managed to get more than two or three on the battlefield at once (mostly because our opponent usually scooped if we got two or three Elspeths on the battlefield), we managed to win with the ultimates of both Elspeth Tirel and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, with our cheaper Elspeths offering tokens, card advantage, and support! If you like Elspeths or grinding out value with planeswalkers, the deck actually felt good enough to play at an FNM or another semi-competitive event. Plus, it's just oozing with flavor and fun!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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It's time for another second chance poll, giving cards that just missed winning previous poll another short at glory. Which card should we play? Click here to vote!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today! Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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